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Video: Jonathan Rosenbaum, Present

To celebrate a legendary critic’s 70th birthday, two critic-filmmakers visit his home to create this intimate video present. By Ignatiy Vishnevetsky and Kevin B. Lee

By Kevin B. Lee February 27, 2013
At home in conversation: Jonathan Rosenbaum reflects on a life at the movies.

At home in conversation: Jonathan Rosenbaum reflects on a life at the movies.

Introduction by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, director.

Jonathan Rosenbaum lives surrounded by his work. His home—a book-filled condo in a quiet part of Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood—also functions as his office, library and personal archive.

About five years ago, Ben Sachs and I set out to make a film about Jonathan. At the time, he had just retired from the Chicago Reader and was presenting a series of lectures at the Gene Siskel Film Center. The project yielded some great footage, but technical problems prevented its completion.

When Kevin B. Lee asked me to direct something for Fandor, I decided to revisit the idea. The uncompleted earlier project had focused on Jonathan’s “exterior”—his opinions, his lectures. This time, I felt the focus should be on the interior—his approach to work, his personality. I wanted to capture the way he talks and thinks: his speech rhythms, his body language, how he pauses and turns his head for emphasis, the way he slips from personal anecdote to critical analysis and back again.

As the project came together, it became obvious that it had to portray Jonathan in conversation and that it had to be shot in his home; going there is about as close as you can get to climbing inside of his head. The set-up had to be minimally intrusive: a handheld camera, a sound recorder, no lights.

On a very cold January evening, Kevin and I went to visit Jonathan. We drank tea and talked. This film is the result.

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky is a film critic for Notebook, a magazine of international film and film culture published by Mubi. His writing has appeared in the Chicago ReaderCargoChicago Sun-Times, and other publications. Follow him on Twitter.

Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of IndieWire’s PressPlay Video Blog, Video Essayist for Fandor’s Keyframe, and a contributor to Roger Ebert.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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  • Excellent work, you two. Thank you.

  • Hey fellow Chicagoans,

    I really appreciated this. Wonderful conversations are so much a part of why a love film so much.

  • Thomas Prieto says:

    This is great! Thank you so much Ignatiy Vishnevetsky and Kevin B. Lee!

  • Nicole Brenez says:

    Wonderful Birthday Film Present !

  • Barry Moore says:

    I very much appreciated this thoughtful presentation of Mr. Rosenbaum, who has long been my single favorite film critic, enjoying the added insight into his personality and positions. I congratulate him upon attaining the venerable age of seventy today, and Mr. Vishnevetsky and Kevin upon this latest successful endeavor.

    Now that the era of film as a mass medium has concluded, we need these kinds of voices more than ever to help preserve and understand this glorious art form of the past.

  • Adrian says:

    Great stuff, many thanks, an excellent tribute to the Birthday Boy !!

  • khenely says:


  • Shaun Pearson says:

    I love Rosenbaum and this is a good interview, but for crying out loud don’t diddle about with an accordion while you’re talking to a legend. How rood!

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